In its first year of operation, Rockmill Tavern did a couple of things really well: It bottled some of the magic from Rockmill Brewery's farmhouse in Lancaster and brought it to the Brewery District, and it captured how we're eating right now. Rockmill owner-brewer Matthew Barbee likes to say his Belgian-style beers were designed with food pairings in mind. He's found a muse in chef Andrew Smith, who brings experience from The Rossi and Philco and seems a perfect fit for Rockmill's rustic yet refined aesthetic. The tavern's weekend brunch is already one of the best in the city (oh, those chilaquiles), complemented by an impressive coffee program. (The tavern opens at 7 a.m. weekdays for coffee service and breakfast.) Smith's small dinner menu offers crowd favorites like the Tavern Burger and Spicy Chicken Sandwich, plus simple stunners like a burrata with oil verde, rotating veggie toast and perfectly cooked Arctic char. But one of Rockmill's best contributions to the dining scene is its multicourse beer pairing events, when Smith really gets to show that he's no one-trick pony in this barnwood-walled tavern.***
Difference-Maker: Beer Pairing 101
If you're curious about beer pairings and want a chance to see Rockmill stretch its culinary legs, then check out the tavern's Monday Beer Dinner series. You get six courses and six beer samples (with generous pours), plus explanations about the pairings from the brewer and chef. I showed up solo to a beer dinner this fall, sat with strangers, and what transpired was one of the most enjoyable (and educational) dining experiences I can remember. For one course featuring a crispy chicken thigh in chicken jus gras (or pan sauce) with golden figs and caramelized pumpkin, Barbee paired a smoky Saison Noir to balance the fattiness of the sauce and complement the caramel flavor components. Rockmill usually takes the opportunity to highlight a particular purveyor at these dinners. On this night, it was Laurel Valley Creamery of Gallipolis. Laurel Valley's Cloverton cheese made a star turn in one course, topping a dish of apples and pears marinated in bacon fat, which Barbee paired with Rockmill's Petite Saison. Cheese and beer are “a match made in heaven,” Barbee says. “I was introduced to the pairing by the Trappist monk tradition.” Part of the beauty is that the two are of the same farm cycle, Barbee explains. The largest waste product of a brew day is spent grain, which the monks fed to their cows. In turn, those cows produced milk from that diet of spent brewers' grain that the monks used to make cheese, which was then paired with their beer, thus completing the cycle. Beer dinners run around $50-$65, a good value given the offerings and a sure way to beat a case of the Mondays.